Web Sites: Not just a spiritual smorgasbord
Tuesday 09 December 1997
"Those who stand for everything, stand for nothing," reads one of the more repeatable reactions to this site, whose message board more typically features abuse from fundamentalists of various persuasions. But this fascinating survey of 63 world religions is more than a spiritual smorgasbord - the aim is to give objective accounts of each belief system, independent of misinformation from rival camps. Begun as a response to the conflict in former Yugoslavia - seen here as primarily religious in nature - the site has now grown to some 500 essays, dealing also with current controversies and "hot topics" (prayer in schools, abortion, etc). Religion itself is not under attack, it is claimed, but the emphasis tends towards the defence of minority beliefs traditionally victimised by mainstream culture, which includes difficult areas like Scientology and a scepticism towards the motives of "deprogrammers". Sometimes, laconic editorialising can't help but emerge, as when the section on the Jim Jones Guyana cult suicide concludes: "A Christian group. Total body count: 919." The self-described consultants of the title are four in number - two unemployed, one a student and one working in "food service" - and are seeking financial support to keep the site operational.
A sinister one-eyed spider, like a refugee from Starship Troopers, welcomes visitors to this London Business School site. There follows a production number complete with flashing cyrillics and sponsors' names dancing to a techno beat. The arachnid eyeball is the centre of a clever, customised click-and-drag navigation system, though there's not much content to navigate to, as yet: this is a newly launched experimental space, one of an increasing number of hybrid research labs for artists, educators and sponsors in pursuit of "new media development opportunities". The "i" in i-Lab stands for imagination, innovation and interaction: linked with new facilities in London and New York, the site will function as a distance learning tool - for instance, for trying out new approaches to animation and online game design.
World Wide Words
Michael Quinion's impressive online CV includes stints as radio producer, cider museum curator and all-purpose heritage adviser. He is also a dedicated freelance lexicographer, contributing substantially to The Oxford Dictionary of New Words, and giving full rein to his fascination with language on these pages. A "Word Hoard" section lists neologisms from "alcopop" to "xenotransplantation" and takes in not just cyberpunk, but also "biopunk" and "ribofunk" on the way. There are succinct little essays on grammar and usage, and a practical rather than pedantic approach to such matters as the gender-neutral pronoun (use "their" in casual situations, rewrite to avoid the problem in more formal cases.) A definitive etymology for a "Full Monty", however, still eludes him.
Unicef Virtual Christmas Card
Web greetings cards can be found everywhere, but the United Nations Children's Fund claims to be the first to offer an online charity card. The idea is pitched mainly at companies - "add a seasonal touch of goodwill to your business message" - and allows a customised greeting to be added. Only, however, after negotiating a secure transaction form asking for a minimum donation of pounds 2 per card. Nostalgists for the traditional woodpulp/snailmail format may also order from the site - the designs, while not featuring a virtual rotating globe, do tend to be a little more Christmassy.
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